21 July 2009

Are you ahead of reading this post?

A few months ago, I posted a 'Jargon and gobbledygook comedy sketch' that was based on various words and phrases in common usage that that I find irritating and/or annoying.

One that baffles me more than most is the ever-increasing preference of writers in the press and broadcast media for using the phrase ‘ahead of’ when they actually mean ‘before’, as in the following recent examples:

‘Man scales plinth ahead of launch.’ – BBC website.

‘Today's co-ordinated attacks came with violence surging in Afghanistan ahead of presidential and provincial elections next month times on line.’ – Times Online.

'Kevin Pietersen will see a specialist about his longstanding Achilles problem ahead of the third Ashes Test at Edgbaston.’ – Sky News website.

In these and the scores of examples you can read or hear every day, wouldn't it sound much more normal and natural if they’d used the good old English word ‘before’.

Is it just me, or did something go seriously wrong with the way I originally learnt to speak (and, as far as I know, continue to speak) my native tongue.

I’m pretty sure I didn’t go to school ahead of going to university any more than I became a father ahead of becoming a grandfather. But I do know that I did both of the former BEFORE experiencing either of the latter.

So can anyone explain to me why is it that so many journalists and editors are so obsessed with using a way of saying ‘before’ that’s not in common usage among any section of the British public (outside the media)?

When did it start being used, and where on earth did it come from in the first place?

I'd really appreciate it if anyone can shed any light on all this going forward – and there’s another one that sounds just as out of touch with common usage and raises much the same questions.


Mark said...

I can't stand "ahead of".

I don't know where it came from or why seemingly intellegent people in the media promulgate its use.

Sometimes when reporting on sports, when a reporter says "ahead of" I really don't know if they mean before or ahead of.

Wish we could go back to saying what we mean. I'm all for advancing language, but why replace one perfectly good word with two ambiguous ones?

Mark Barrett said...

There are American-English phrases that mean 'before' but use 'ahead of'. For example:

"You need to get ahead of the curve."

Meaning: you need to anticipate more; be prepared before something happens. If you said, "You need to get before the curve," people in the U.S. would think you were an idiot.

So...my conclusion would be that relative rarities like this are simply leeching into phrases and sentences where 'before' was normally used. (The financial industry seems to favor this trend, freely tossing around phrases like 'before the bell' and 'ahead of tomorrow's earning reports.)

Anonymous said...

here's the full OED entry:

"b. With reference to time: in advance of, before; esp. in pred. phr. ahead of one's (or its) time, having ideas too original to be immediately accepted; also, new, original, incorporating advanced technological devices.
1901 G. B. SHAW Devil's Disciple III. 78 We are some minutes ahead of you already. 1920 National Rev. Apr. 141 Men who had sympathized with the Allied cause some years ahead of President Wilson. 1934 G. B. SHAW On Rocks I. 219 Women and men who are ahead of their time. They alone can lead the present into the future. They are ghosts from the future. 1947 Redbook Sept. 112/3 Henry's ahead of his time. 1965 A. J. P. TAYLOR Eng. Hist. 1914-45 viii. 272 Henderson..secured the withdrawal of Allied troops from the Rhineland five years ahead of time. 1972 T. STOPPARD Jumpers II. 80 That astronaut..[is] going to find he was only twenty years ahead of his time. 1977 Time 21 Nov. 15 (Advt.), Seiko has maintained its position as world leader in Digital Quartz by consistently introducing new, ahead-of-their-time watches. 1982 Times 27 Feb. 13/2 Ahead of results on Monday Barclays Bank shed 5p to 351p."